Limestone in Art

Our art museum, located on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, is situated right in the heart of limestone country. Bloomington and the surrounding area are known as sources for some of the best limestone in the world. Limestone from southern Indiana has been used to create such iconic structures as the Empire State Building and Yankee Stadium in New York and the Pentagon and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It is the predominant building material throughout the Indiana University Bloomington campus, which was named the second most beautiful campus in the country in a 2016 USA Today poll. Every June we celebrate Limestone Month in Bloomington. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss limestone’s presence in the history of art, as well as some examples of limestone art in our collection.

Limestone has been used as a material in art since before antiquity. The Venus of Willendorf (28,000–25,000 BCE), one of the oldest and most famous surviving works of art, is made of Oolitic limestone (Oolitic is also the name of a town just south of Bloomington). The Great Pyramid of Giza was encased in Tura limestone, and the Great Sphinx of Giza, located in the pyramid complex, is made of Nummulitic limestone. (For an interesting and odd connection between the Great Pyramid of Giza and Indiana, read up on the failed attempt to create a limestone replica of the pyramid in Needmore, Indiana, in the 1970s.) Use of limestone can also be found in Sumerian, Egyptian, Cypriot, Greek, and Roman cultures, as well as medieval Europe, and China.

Two early examples from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection include a Servant Figure of a Brewer, an Egyptian statuette dating to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2,565–2,420 BCE) and Striding Young Man, a Greek kouros (a statue of a standing nude youth popular during the Archaic period), which dates to 500–450 BCE.

A more recent example of limestone sculpture in our collection is Peasant (La Paysanne) by the French artist Marcel Damboise (1903–1992), which you can read more about here.

2016.2
Marcel Damboise (French 1903-1922). Peasant (La Paysanne), 1938-1939. Stone. Gift of Danielle Damboise Françoise, daughter of the artist, 2016.2

The museum also owns a beautiful print by Indiana University Professor Emeritus of Photography Jeffrey Wolin, from his Stone Country series. Just this year, an updated version of Wolin’s book Stone Country: Then and Now, was released by IU Press. It serves as an artistic and informative document of the limestone industry and quarries of southern Indiana.

15-06-16.nt
Jeffrey Wolin (American, born 1951). Winter, Oolitic, from Stone Country, 1984. Gelatin silver print. 90.18.7

If you are interested in other ways to celebrate Limestone Month, check out the Visit Bloomington calendar, which covers this month’s festivities in the city. Of particular note is a photography exhibition titled Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone, on view all month at Fountain Square Mall.

Advertisements

Lou Block: An Unexpected Slice of Life

200-x-18-1
Image: Lou Block (American, 1895-1969). Conversation No. 1, ca. 1960. Gelatin silver print. Henry Holmes Smith Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.X.18.1

Today we bring you a look into the work of American photographer Lou Block by Nan Brewer, the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper. Block’s work, along with that of other influential photography professors, including Minor White, Allen Downs, Aaron Siskind, and Indiana University’s first photography professor, Henry Holmes Smith, will be on view in a new installation, Modern Pioneers: Professors of Photography, from November 8, 2016, through May 7, 2017, in the museum’s first floor gallery of the Art of the Western World. 

Lou Block is primarily known as a muralist, illustrator, and arts administrator, and served as a supervisor for the WPA Federal Art Project in New York City. During his tenure with the FAP he raised issues of racism and segregation within the government-sponsored organization, particularly the rejection of designs by black artists for the Harlem Hospital. Block was also involved politically with the Artists Congress and Artists’ Union, which organized an artists’ strike in 1934. Having worked with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera on his controversial Rockefeller Center murals, Block understood the power of art to move people and recognized the importance of truthfulness.

Inspired by his friend Ben Shahn, Block took up the camera as well as the brush and pen. He approached photography with the same honesty and creative passion as he did his other work. During his years in New York City he photographed numerous mural projects (many now lost), the Artists’ Union strike, and studies for a mural proposed at Riker’s Island. In 1951 Block moved to Kentucky, where he taught painting and creative photography at the University of Louisville. His later photographs include shots taken in Louisville, Mexico, New York City, and New Jersey.

Block’s photographs continued in the documentary tradition of the Farm Security Administration, while embracing the grittier, urban style of the New York Photo League. This image with its closely cropped focus on two foreground figures offers an intimate look into their private world. Never overly sentimentalizing or condescending to his subjects, Block used a 35mm camera to record as unobtrusively as possible a fleeting moment in time. While the interaction between the women is the central focus of the picture, the blurred tapestry of street life seen in the background provides the social context. Like the street photography of Robert Frank—whose book The Americans was published in the US in 1959—Block’s image relies on gesture and unexpected juxtapositions to reveal the whole story.

Nanette Esseck Brewer

The Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Spotlights: The Fantastic Photos of Julia Margaret Cameron

 

cameron1
Image: Julia Margaret Cameron (British 1815-1879). The Mountain of Nymph Sweet Liberty from Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life, 1874. Albumen print mounted on cardstock. Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.28.15

This summer the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is exhibiting Spotlights: Five Views into the Museum’s Collection. Nan Brewer, the museum’s Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper chose a rare book of photos by nineteenth-century photographer Julia Margaret Cameron for her section of the exhibition. 

The wife of a retired jurist and mother of six, Julia Margaret Cameron (British, 1815–1879) took up photography at the age of forty-eight. One of the medium’s early pioneers, Cameron is widely recognized for her pictorial artistry. Born in Calcutta, India, Cameron traveled widely during her lifetime, studying in France, and living in England, before her death in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) at age sixty-four. The great aunt of author Virginia Woolf, Cameron brushed shoulders with many famous and historical figures of the time.

In 1874, she created an album of 101 miniature versions of her earlier works as “a board of ship companion for my beloved son Hardinge Hay Cameron.” Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life is a rare treasure, available for view in Spotlights on individual pages as it was disbound for repair.

cameron-palgrave
Image: Julia Margaret Cameron (British 1815-1879). W. G. Palgrave from Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life, 1874. Albumen print mounted on cardstock. Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.38.65

The album was created by making small copy photos from images that spanned ten years (all are albumen prints mounted on cardstock). As a personal memento, the album reads like a visual scrapbook of Cameron’s family, friends, neighbors, and members of the Victorian intelligentsia. Among her subjects are naturalist Charles Darwin, the great poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and other colorful characters such as W. G. Palgrave, the Jesuit missionary who would often disguise himself during his travels to then, forbidden lands, and Dejatch Alamayou, the only person outside of the royal family to be buried at Windsor Castle. Interspersed with these portraits are lyrical allegorical vignettes and illustrations of themes from classical mythology, the Bible, and English literature, which Cameron recreated stylistically based on prototypes from Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite painting traditions.

75.38.8
Image: Julia Margaret Cameron (British 1815-1879). Christabel from Miniature Edition of Mrs. Cameron’s Photographs from the Life, 1874 (negative 1866). Albumen print mounted on cardstock. Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.38.8

For more on Julia Margaret Cameron, check out a recent video interview below with contemporary photographer Nan Goldin, as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s The Artist Project series.

We hope you take this opportunity to visit the museum and see Cameron’s photography and the rest of our Spotlights exhibition for yourself. It is on view through September 4, 2016. If you have any questions please contact us at iuam@indiana.edu.

Eskenazi Museum of Art website

 

The Progressive and Regressive America: Exploring “Rosie the Riveter”

200.XX.10.8Alfred T. Palmer
American, 1906-1993
Fingers of Destruction, ca. 1942–43
Gelatin silver print
Henry Holmes Smith Archive 
200.XX.10.8

“Rosie the Riveter” is an illustration that many people may recognize. It is the face of a strong and determined fictional young woman during World War II. The image, often displayed in the form of a poster or other portrait, portrays the young woman with a distinct red bandana and with her flexed arm muscles ready for combat. Often times, this image is paired with the phrase “We can do it,” which was aimed to encourage women to earn and care for families as the men were away at war. This was a precursor for the role reversals that women tackled during World War II.

The black and white photo installation, curated by Nan Brewer and a museum intern from the Department of Communication and Culture Maura Campbell-Balkits and on view in the Gallery of the Art of the Western World, shows real life examples of “Rosie.” Including photographs by Howard Liberman, Andreas Feininger, David Bransby, and Alfred T. Palmer, the group of six photographs shows white women and women of color working in industrial settings, creating parachutes, working with armaments, and putting together bombs.

Originally part of a larger selection of photographs that included men working as well, these photos were taken as propaganda for the Office of War Information. The point of the photographs was to mobilize citizens to participate in war efforts and to display national strength to the rest of the world. Brewer and Campbell-Balkits found it to be essential to showcase the unique range of inclusion in the 1940s. This series is particularly notable as the jobs that these women and minorities were undertaking in the photographs were jobs that were usually reserved for white men at this time. However, with the men at war, white and minority women were the ones left to support families and to help supply the military.

200.XX.27.1
Manoower: Negro navy yard worker. 
In a sea of silk, this woman worker is making parachutes for 
America’s paratroopers. She is one of many Negroe employees 
in the aircraft factory of an Eastern navy yard. May 1942
Gelatin silver print
Henry Holmes Smith Archive
200.XX.27.1

After speaking with Brewer and Campbell-Balkits, it is clear that this new era was progressive for the United States. The photographs  in this series were utilized to make America appear modern and powerful, with all hands on deck for the war. According to Brewer, this was potentially a factor in the forward movement of the civil and women’s rights movements and was one of the first times in history that photographs of people of color were circulated in news publications.

However, as progressive as the photographs appear to be, there are always aspects of the truth that remain regressive. Campbell-Balkits said that the photographs do not show the hardships of these groups, only the positives. For example, Brewer said that although women and minorities were doing the same types of factory jobs that white men had done prior to the war, there was still a wage gap that was unequal to what white men had been paid. Additionally, there was the issue of the post-war effect. According to Brewer, the end of the war meant white men returned to their jobs in the factories, leaving women and minorities without these positions once more.

These photographs say more than what women and minorities were doing during World War II; this series also highlights the effects of the war. After developing more capabilities to work for themselves throughout the war, women and minorities strove to further that ability both legally and socially. Indeed, once women and minorities had the knowledge that “they can do it,” the empowering image of “Rosie” and the phrase “We can do it” became a progressive way to think for those who had been told otherwise.

m

m

R.C.